mackknopf: (Justice)
The practice of law has been called a license to learn.  It is one of the most pivotal experiences in my life and shaped my character.  I count it, along with my going to college at UC Berkeley, as one of the two great adventures of my life so far.  Dad said it was a way he knew for sure that I could make a living.  My Uncle Ray told me I would never regret going.  All of the above is true.  However, when going to law school, I wish someone had told me a few more things to prepare me.   The below is advice I am giving to a buddy with an engineering degree who wanted to know more about what it was like.


1.  To get into law school, take the LSAT prep course.  All the other people getting into good schools will do this. Then take the LSAT and get a good score.  You will also need decent references.  For choice of school, consider how much debt you want to go into (get government loans, not private), and how reputation matters to you.  Public is generally cheaper than private and is usually just as good or better (Univ. of Alabama versus Cumberland, for instance).

2.   Make sure you know why you want to go law school.  "Because Dad wanted me to" or "I can make money when I'm done!" was not sufficient to get me through.  I went because I'd been to a class beforehand and liked both the subject matter (contracts, not that I use it much) and the school.  I stayed because I could sense I was meant to be there.  I fit (even when I had little in common with the other students) because I wanted a career I would love, not just a job.  After all, they were going to teach me how to argue for a living! 

Wanting to help people came later in actual practice for me.  My attitude was that failure was unacceptable; I had nowhere else to go and no fallback plan.  It was win or nothing.

3.  You will become a monk for three years.  Well, you might have a significant other, but relationships tend to either break up under the stress or lead to marriage in law school.  It's definitely a very ascetic life, but has a certain purity and rigor that was good for me at the time.  "The law is a jealous mistress” continues to be true even today, but I have more free time. 

Pick one hobby.  That's all you're going to have time for.  Also, decide which friends you want to keep, because you're not going to have a whole lot of time to interact with them.  I had my regular role playing game, friends outside of law school, and one good friend in law school (Dan), who helped me make it and vice versa.

4.    Make a general plan for what you want to do after school, but be okay with making changes in it.  Realize that what you think you’ll want to practice might change after  you go through the actual classes.  If you can’t stand the idea of defending people who might be guilty (and often are), for instance, don’t do criminal defense.  Recognize that some fields of interest make more money than others (like personal injury lawsuits or insurance defense).  Family law is relatively speaking, a poor cousin to the land of civil law practice, but I find it satisfying.  Just have an open mind.

5.    Do you want to work for yourself or somebody else?  The first is very difficult.  If I wasn’t working with my father, an established name, I’d be struggling.  It wasn’t very easy the first year out of law school until I carved out a niche (criminal defense and family law).  Helping those who were hurt as a practice came later.  Working for someone else is more lucrative.  On the other hand, I do not work well under others, and I’ve grown to love the freedom I have being on my own (though not so much as not knowing where the next case will come from).  It all depends on your temperament.

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mackknopf: (Justice)

For those who don't know, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled on the federal right to hold sex offenders after they have completed their sentence.  Now they can be held indefinitely if they are deemed dangerous.  For those who say, "So what?", consider that the definition of sex offender has changed dramatically in the past decade or so.  A 15-year-old girl with a 17-year-old boyfriend?  That boyfriend is now considered a sex offender.  Streaking, running naked without any clothes on?  Sex offense.  Also consider the very slippery slope we are on when a jail sentence that has been completed can be extended, not based on any new charges, but under a general feeling of "we just don't trust you and we don't want to let you out."  Sex offenders are already stringently punished and must report regularly to the authorities, as well as report any new changes of address.  If they can't find a place to stay within three days of leaving jail, they are re-imprisoned.  I don't think we're lax on these offenders, unless you think they can never serve enough time to pay for their crimes and can never be rehabilitated (which is an entirely separate question).  

The rationale of a "broad authority" by Congress to pass laws "rationally related" to constitutional goals will likely be used from this case to also mandate that people buy healthcare insurance, even though we've never forced people to pay for services directly before (aside from taxes).  The power of the federal government is being greatly expanded.  I'm also having second thoughts about the Obama healthcare plan in its present form, which I have so far been a strong supporter of.  When conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are the dissenting voices in favor of small government and Congress only having specifically enumerated powers, I feel queasy about aligning myself with them.  But I'm starting to feel some worry here.

Have I ever defended a sex offender as a lawyer in a criminal case?  Yes, and I would do so again, even if it made me uncomfortable.  Everybody, at least in America, deserves a fair trial and the right to be heard.  Allow me to leave you with a quotation from Martin Niemoller, German priest and activist who opposed Hitler:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

 

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mackknopf

March 2012

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